INDIA’S LIGHT COMBAT AIRCRAFT(LCA) NAVAL VERSION LANDS & TAKES OFF FROM INS VIKRAMADITYA—KUDOS TO MANY & CMDE MAOLANKAR & MOST TO CMDE CD BALAJI SCIENTIST G PROJECT DIRECTOR AND LATER HEAD ADA—FROM PAPER TO FLIGHT !

This is an IDF tribute to  a modest Cmde (Retd)CD Balaji who steered the Navy’s and then the IAF’s LCA MK1 programme that ACM Raha accepted to give LCA a boost on Balaji’s presentation not to the import lobby !

It gives joy to IDF that Balaji  was part of the batch that IDF was proud to train,  and three other batches  of the Technical branch in the Naval Academy in Cochin 1978-80.  Our motto was to see they did better than NDA and taught then the path ! Eight became Admirals a record, and Balaji blazed in the LCA programme and when IDF  met him at ADA, IDF  said, “ You have done well Balaji…sorry Navy did not make you an Admiral”, he replied, “Sir I am Scientist G”. I found out he was equivalent to a Vice Admiral. At Cochin in Feb this year I saluted Balaji. His  batch invited my wife and me as guests, for a four day Nostalgic recall of how they were trained and a Gala of tours and visits to schools and Allepey back waters, and the new NAVAC at Ezimala! They have done well after leaving Navy in India, and abroad. 

I had followed Balaji’s career and how he fitted REVLONS on Naval Two naval  LCAs and on congratulating him on Sunday he modestly accepted my congratulations and spoke of the team work and Chief Test Pilot.  There is more. We felicitated Mrs Balaji, who said, “ I am a teacher and feel proud of my students who do well, and remember me. I can imagine how you are feeling !    

As the Officer in Charge of Naval Academy, IDF  trained a number of Green Horns. Out of that, IDF  have not at that point of time, imaged that one would shine as Balji and another bunch of my wards  would become a part of the pioneers of the nuclear submarining of the Nation. This bunch of half a dozen with others I am referring  to, belong to the 1979 Aug to Dec and then the Dec 1979  to Apr 1980 batches of Technical graduates. (16th Integrated and then the 17th Integrated). They call themselves the Chakradharians as six served in INS  Chakra and assisted ATV after long training in Vladivostok. The story will figure with LCA and  Balaji’s in Navy Year Book-2020 at DEFEXPO 2020. But here is Balaji’s story.

 By Cmde CD Balaji (Retd), Distinguished Scientist

[Former Project Director LCA (Navy), Former Programme Director (CA) & Director ADA]

1.           The journey started in the 1990’s when the then Programme Director of Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Dr. Kota Harinarayana and his team visited INS Hansa, the Indian Naval Air Station at Goa, to interact with the Indian Navy team comprising, at that time, of Cdr. Shekar Sinha, Lt.Cdr. CD Balaji and Lt.Cdr. Vijay Kandru. The team discussed the nuances of carrier borne aircraft operation. This was my first exposure to a design & development environment and I guess, the initiation of my journey with the Naval Version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA Navy). At this time, the design of the Air Force Version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was already in progress and initial build activities were also underway with the formal sanction being accorded in 1993.

2. Based on draft Naval Air Staff Requirements (Sep 1986) issued by Naval Head Quarters (NHQ), feasibility of making a Naval version with minimum structural changes to LCA was studied. A project on LCA Navy Project Definition Phase (PDP) was initiated.

3. The teams from ADA and HAL put together a study based on the Air Force Version and concluded that it would be feasible to develop a carrier borne aircraft, albeit with certain changes in order to operate with the concept of Ski-jump Take-off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR). At that time, it was envisaged that the exit Angle of Attack (AoA) would be limited to 24 deg and the approach AoA would be 17.5 deg in order to have a reduced approach speed to the ship. The take-off run was indicated to be about 200m with the ramp exit angle of 12 deg.

4. Based on the Project Definition and on my formal deputation to ADA in 2002, I started writing the CCS Note for the Full-Scale Engineering Development for a Naval Version of the Light Combat Aircraft (FSED LCA Navy). The CCS approval was accorded in End Mar 2003. The assumption at this time was that the changes to the Naval version would be in the order of 15 to 20% vis-à-vis the Air Force Version. Incidentally, the LCA AF had its maiden flight on 04 Jan 2001. The team was built up over the years from a lone ranger in the LCA Navy Programme Office at ADA in 2002 to 4 members by 2005.

5. The design and development activities were initiated in right earnest along with HAL and as the detailed design evolved, the extent of changes kept increasing and it started becoming a new aircraft, albeit with constraints imposed by commonality. We had a new front fuselage (Nose section), a strengthened centre fuselage to take the volume and loads of a longer and stronger landing gear and the arrester hook. We had a new leading-edge control surface, a new control law, etc.,              

6. In parallel to the design and development of the aircraft itself, there was a need to conceptualise and build various test facilities / rigs for proving the design prior to flight / validation. Some of the major facilities were the Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) at Goa replicating the ski-jump launch and arrested recovery, the full scale aircraft structural test rig to load the aircraft to 1.5 times the flight loads, sub system test rigs for landing gear, arrester hook, LEVCON, control law, Avionics, Real time simulator, Telemetry facility at Goa, etc.,

7. The aircraft was rolled out in 2010, equivalent to the launch of the ship. This was witnessed by the then CNS, Admiral Nirmal Verma. The aircraft was then equipped, ground tested and had its maiden flight on 27 Apr 2012, exactly 9 years after the CCS approval. This is considered contemporary by any world standard, especially doing it for the first time in the country.

8. The first maiden ski-jump launch was in Dec 2014, followed by the arrested recovery (Taxi-in) in Aug 2018

9. I had the opportunity of flying the aircraft that we had designed and built 3 days prior to my demitting office on superannuation.

10. After successful arrested recovery at the Shore Based Test Facility at Goa, history was made when the second LCA Navy Prototype, NP2 was successfully recovered on board INS Vikramaditya, piloted by Cmde. JA Maolankar on 11 Jan 2020. This was followed by a successful maiden launch from the ship on 12 Jan 2020. These events deserve to be written in golden letters and the nation can be justifiably proud.

Recovery on Vikramaditya on 11 Jan 2020:

Launch from Vikramaditya on 12 Jan 2020:

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